Madison Regatta 1949
By Fred Farley – H1 Unlimited Historian
Up until 1953, all of the Unlimited races run at Madison consisted of only one heat and were really just free-for-alls for classes 7-Litre and above. Never more than one or two Unlimiteds ever showed up. Nothing counted for APBA National High Points.
The late Phil Cole, then the Sports Editor of THE MADISON COURIER, was anxious to see Madison advance to the next level with a full-fledged Unlimited race with High Points at stake. For that to happen, a race had to be scheduled for a minimum of two heats with at least four boats making a legal start.
That was easier said than done. In the 1950s, there was no Unlimited circuit per se, because the sport was very regional. About the only time that all of the top Unlimiteds were ever in the same pit area with each other was at the Gold Cup.
The “big city” races, such as Seattle or Detroit or Washington, D.C., were generally well attended. But it was pretty much “catch as catch can” where the smaller communities were concerned. Lots of these had trouble attracting boats during the 1950s. (These included: Elizabeth City, North Carolina; New Martinsville, West Virginia; and Polson, Montana.)
According to Cole, “All we in Madison could do was try to make friends with the owners and try to persuade them to enter our race.”
Phil was determined that Madison, Indiana, would not “die on the vine” as so many other race sites had. By hook or by crook, he was going to recruit a representative field of Unlimiteds for a race that counted for National High Points. And he succeeded! How he went about this was quintessential Phil Cole.
As race day neared for the 1954 Madison Regatta, two teams–the MISS CADILLAC and the DORA MY SWEETIE, both from Detroit–signified their intentions to attend. But the crews let it be known that they were coming to town primarily for a fun weekend and to put on an exhibition. They didn’t want to have to go all out and really race anybody.
Cole and his friend “Wild Bill” Cantrell cooked up a scheme. Cantrell agreed to bring the nationally ranked team of GALE IV and GALE V, which he and Lee Schoenith drove, to Madison. But it was important that the MISS CADILLAC and DORA MY SWEETIE teams not know about it.
So, Cantrell stored the two GALEs at Soupy Ciconett’s boat shop in Louisville for a few days. Only at the last moment did the “IV and the “V” pull into the pits at Madison.
Seeing GALE IV and GALE V arrive on the scene almost gave MISS CADILLAC owner Bud Saile cardiac arrest. (“If I had known they were going to be here, I wouldn’t have come!”)
But now it was too late for MISS CADILLAC and DORA MY SWEETIE to gracefully withdraw. They had to put on a real race.
That’s how Madison, Indiana, hosted its first-ever National High Points event, which was won by “co-conspirator” Cantrell in GALE IV. Madison has staged a High Points race for Unlimited hydroplanes every year since with the single sole exception of 2013, when the race had to be cancelled on account of inclement weather conditions.
Only Detroit and Seattle have hosted more Points races than Madison.